Steakhouses don't usually have chefs in charge. For example, who's the chef at Peter Luger? Or Gene and Georgetti in Chicago? Or the Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles? I don't know, and I am willing to wager a steak dinner at Luger that nobody else does either. That's because steakhouses are traditionally not chef-driven; they're prime, preferably dry-aged meat and perfectly golden hash-brown-potato driven.
Although celebrity chefs have gotten into the steakhouse game (because they love red meat and love developing concepts that can be cloned and yield profits with minimal oversight), I can think of only one serious chef at a high-end steakhouse who runs the kitchen or is at the broiler nearly every night. And that one chef is Michael Lomonaco at Porter House New York.
I have had half a dozen meals at Porter House and have spotted Lomonaco there each time. When the restaurant opened less than a year ago, the food was not nearly as good as it is now, and the reviews reflected that.
But each meal I've had there has been successively better, and the meal I had there last week might have been one of the best steakhouse meals I have ever had.
- A mountain of perfectly fried, almost obese, oysters with pickled jalapeño and chipotle mayonnaise, served in a basket lined with butcher paper
- A luxuriantly rich oyster pan roast enlivened with fresh tarragon and bits of Nueske's bacon
- A prime, 28-day dry-aged bone-in ribeye that was the essence of minerally, meaty, red-meat-inducing pleasure
- Three Colorado porterhouse lamb chops that could have used a little more lamb flavor
- Nutmeggy creamed spinach topped by more of those Nueske's bacon bits
- Lightly battered, properly browned onion rings made with Vidalia onions
- Golden-brown hash browns served pancake-style.
- The creamiest, sweetest creamed corn imaginable
- A make-your-own hot fudge sundae with a pitcher of terrific hot fudge, house-made wet mixed nuts and marshmallow topping
- A superb cheesecake made with fresh cream cheese from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and topped with fresh raspberry-orange sauce
Add to the food careful service, a solid wine list, and a handsome room with a magical view of Central Park and the Fifth Avenue skyline, and you have the most satisfying and deeply pleasurable steakhouse experience in the country. The porterhouse at Luger may be aged longer, Craftsteak may offer a wider, more interesting selection of steaks, but because a chef as good as Lomonaco is at Porter House almost every night and because his menu reflects a serious chef's skill and experience, Porter House is going to become my go-to steakhouse.
It has been nearly six years since Lomonaco miraculously survived the September 11 attack that wiped out his entire staff at Windows on the World. The fateful moment the first plane hit he was getting his glasses fixed on the ground floor of the World Trade Center. One can only imagine how many rocky moments Lomonaco has experienced since then, but with Porter House New York in full flower, it seems as if he has finally returned to where he belongs—cooking terrific food in a restaurant kitchen every night.